Call for new UK visas amid record vacancies

The latest UK jobs figures, showing the number of vacancies had hit another record high, have led to a chorus of calls from business groups for an overhaul of the immigration system to allow companies to hire the foreign skills they need.

UK BRP (Biometrical Residence Permit) cards for Tier 2 work visa placed on top of UK Entry Clearance vignette sticker in the passport.
Leading organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), particularly want to see sector-specific expansions of the government's Shortage Occupation List to make it easier to bring in overseas talent.Data from the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday showed that the number of people on company payrolls increased to a new high in May of 29.6 million. Meanwhile, in the quarter to last month, the total of job vacancies hit a record of 1.3 million - half a million more than before the onset of the pandemic.The 3.8% unemployment rate is close to a 50-year low and the number of redundancies over the quarter fell to a new record.Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said, “Today’s stats show our jobs market remains robust with redundancies at an all-time low. Helping people into work is the best way to support families in the long term, and we are continuing to support people into new and better jobs."However, business groups said the government must do more to tackle the skills shortages being felt across the economy. Matthew Percival, director for people and skills at the CBI, said "urgency" was needed to build confidence and ease the risks of a full-blown recession.“Not being able to hire the people they need is a major drag on business confidence, so the government should immediately allow firms to use their Apprenticeship Levy to tackle shortages and update the Shortage Occupation List,” he urged.Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the BCC, said the increasingly tight labour market meant it had become much harder for employers to fill job vacancies, impacting on their ability to operate normally and retain skills in the business.“The further rise in the employment rate, together with drop in the unemployment rate, are good news but they also reflect how little room for manoeuvre there is for unfilled vacancies on the ground," she said.“We need to find ways to bring people back into the UK labour market. Flexible working practices, rapid re-training opportunities and a focus on workplace health can support many economically inactive people to return to the workplace.“But for some roles, where there is clear evidence of a national shortage of skills and labour, firms need access to people, at all skill levels, from outside the UK. As well as issuing temporary and seasonal visas, the UK government needs to urgently review the Shortage Occupation List.”
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Ann Swain, CEO of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which this week published its own survey on the growing skills shortage, described the UK labour market as approaching "breaking point".She said, “In recent months we’ve seen record-breaking vacancy numbers reported by the ONS and the first ever instance where there are more jobs than people out of work.“In a post-Brexit and Covid-hit economy, the strength of the labour market will be paramount to the UK’s ability to become and remain a global powerhouse. If this is to be achieved, the country’s policy-makers need to implement an international approach and bolster global opportunities.“This includes creating an attractive entry route into the country for highly skilled, self-employed professionals and re-focusing international trade deals on skills, the workforce and the mutual recognition of services and professional qualifications, as well as tariffs and goods.”Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, warned that if "we don't address the fact that there are not enough people looking for work, this could put another dampener on the UK's economic growth".He added, "We have to improve our activation programmes to help Job Centres get people into work quickly, and radically reform the skills system to help fill some of the gaps. And we also need an immigration system that is flexible enough to address the really sharp shortages we're seeing in some parts."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted in the Spring 2022 issue of Think Global People.

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